LocalShops1's Ester Venouziou: St. Pete entrepreneur on a mission to support local businesses

Ester Venouziou arrived in St. Pete with an idea that became a mission -- support and preserve the uniqueness of the town’s small businesses. 

That mission became LocalShops1. Fifteen years later, it is successful and growing. On Thursday, August 24, 2023, Venouziou is throwing what she calls “The Party of the Year” at the beautiful Floridian Social Club, 687 Central Ave. in downtown St. Pete, to celebrate the 15th anniversary.

A natural fit

Networking, event planning and creating energy and excitement seem to come naturally to Ester Venouziou. She credits her parents, entrepreneurs who had a successful, international fabric and linen business in Brazil, for her work ethic.

“They were always working,” Venouziou says. 

When the family relocated to the United States, Venouziou became interested in journalism. 

She lived and worked in several places in Florida, eventually landing at what was then the St. Petersburg Times. She loved the town’s great local vibe. It reminded her of Ft. Lauderdale before it became so corporate. 

”Ft. Lauderdale wasn’t unique anymore,” Venouziou recalls.

She didn’t want to see that happen to St. Pete. While continuing to work at the newspaper, Venouziou started to post a list of local stores, restaurants and attractions. A one-stop place for locals and tourists to find one-of-a-kind places to visit, shop and eat. 

“It was a hobby,” Venouziou says. 

They say timing in life is everything. Venouziou’s couldn’t have been better. The year was 2008, just as something called Facebook would give her access to a worldwide audience. 

Soon, people were calling her with tips and recommendations. Businesses were calling too, asking to be added to her list. But she wasn’t making any money.

Venouziou decided to get her businesses together for a little face-to-face networking. Those “co-op parties” were a big success. 

“It was like a professional potluck,” she says. 

Every business would contribute something. It was a unique way to build a professional community. 

The word spread and the list grew. In 2011, Venouziou was laid off from her job at the newspaper, which provided the opportunity to focus more energy on LocalShops1. She supported herself by picking up freelance writing work along the way.
Once again, timing played a role in Venouziou’s success. Her brother moved to St. Pete.
“He was more organized than I,” she says. “He created a business plan, a budget. He stayed for several years and gave the business structure.” 

Venouziou acknowledges her brother’s help in building LocalShops1 and credits her mentors who wanted to see her succeed.

“I received input from so many, like, ‘You need to increase your rates; you’re not charging enough.’”

Venouziou’s days of worrying about cash flow seem to be behind her. 

LocalShops1’s next big move was to start Shopapalooza, a community festival featuring over 350 local makers, craftspeople and small businesses. Co-sponsored by the City of St. Petersburg, it is the largest festival of its kind in the nation. The 2023 Shopapalooza will take place in Vinoy Park, 701 Bayshore Drive NE in downtown St. Petersburg, on November 25 and 26. 

The Party of the Year

But before that, there’s the anniversary celebration. After her years of work, an international pandemic and a record-breaking heat wave, Venouziou is looking forward to hosting The Party of the Year. She expects it to be sold out but says there are still a few tickets available. 

“There’s no better place to network and make connections,” she says. “And don’t forget to always shop local!”  

Venouziou says the party is a muti-prong celebration, designed to honor the local makers and small businesses that make Tampa Bay such an awesome place. And, after a couple of difficult years due to COVID and a slow summer due to the extreme heat, it’s also time to celebrate cooler weather ahead and a promising holiday shopping season, highlighted by Shopapalooza 2023.

According to the LocalShops1 website, The Party of the Year is open to everyone with ticket prices starting at $25. Advance registration is required. No tickets will be sold at the door. 

The fun begins at 6 p.m. for sponsors and VIP ticket holders and at 7 p.m. for general admission. There will be a cocktail reception, delicious appetizers by Calamansi Co, desserts by JB's Sweet Addiction and Nothing Bundt Cakes, a cash bar with signature drinks and, very importantly, networking and the best conversations with 300 of your closest and your newest friends.

Admission also includes one entry to win a prize package valued at $1,000 or more. Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice is the keynote speaker. Sharing her small business experience will be LocalShops1 member, the “Saucy Queen,” Michele Northrup, who has been named Tampa Bay Business Woman of the Year in Manufacturing and Business Leader’s - Woman Extraordinaire. 

The event also features live painting by local artists Alyssa Marie and JP DiCarlo, performances by Gloria West and Gents, and fiery and aerial shows. It really does sound like The Party of the Year.

“There’s no better place to network and make connections,” Venouziou says. “And don’t forget to always shop local!” 

For more information, go to LocalShops1.
For ticket information, go to The Party of the Year.
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Read more articles by Pamela Varkony.

Pamela Varkony’s non-fiction topics range from politics to economic development to women's empowerment. A feature writer and former columnist for Tribune Publishing, Pamela's work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, and in PBS and NPR on-air commentaries. Her poetry has been published in the New York Times. Recognized by the Pennsylvania Women's Press Association with an "Excellence in Journalism" award, Pamela often uses her writing to advocate for women's rights and empowerment both at home and abroad. She has twice traveled to Afghanistan on fact-finding missions. Pamela was named the 2017 Pearl S. Buck International Woman of Influence for her humanitarian work. Born and raised in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Pamela often weaves the lessons learned on those backcountry roads throughout her stories.